Amal’s recovering from the night before, where he allowed himself to get “stinking drunk” after leaving the hospital, his wife, and the now never to be born child of theirs. The ward sister had chased him out with well meaning remarks of support for his welfare and an understanding that he was in the way. It’s now the morning after this fracture in their lives and Amal needs to get to the hospital to collect Claud, his wife, and to make things right.
Black Bread White Beer explores the everyday minutiae of a loving relationship that, like microorganisms, can sustain or destroy a marriage.Those wonderful quirks of a loved one that can become needles attacking your very essence.
Covering the twenty four hours after the loss of their unborn child, we follow Amal, and through him we learn of his love & the relationship he has with his wife & it’s through him we watch it teeter, wobble & slowly fall. Amal is a modern Indian (Bengali) man married to a middle class English Woman, and it’s in the heartland of his wife’s family that this story plays out; with Claud retreating to her family home after her loss. Claud insists that they don’t tell her parents about the miscarriage (the visit is to help her father plumb the washing machine), meaning that they both have to bear their grief alone, isolating them from family, friends & ultimately each other.
This is the first book I’ve read by Niven Govinden but it won’t be the last, in this book he confronts all those issues facing people who dare to commit to another individual and does so with the utmost empathy, passion and yet with a precision that in other hands could have become cold and abstract. Although seen from Amal’s perspective, we get an insight into the complexity of a marriage, with all the subtle and not so subtle pressures that different cultural influences can place upon it and how shared memories can become a means of communication, when all around you is turmoil and hurt.
“Niven Govinden brilliantly evokes the bleak comedy and deranged exhilaration of modern life. This is the sound of the suburbs.” Jake Arnott
“I’m full of admiration for this novel and the way it captures a couple as a crisis detonates in their marriage and exposes all sorts of emotional and cultural fault lines in the process. It was deft without being superficial, serious without being ponderous and pulled off the clever trick of constantly unsettling the reader’s sympathies and assumptions. And the novel’s setting - affluent, settled Sussex - is a wonderfully evoked foil for the novel’s themes of disruption and alienation. It’s a very fine book.” Alex Clark
“In this tale of everyday tragedy and everyday life, Niven Govinden confirms his status as one of the most important chroniclers of modern-day Britain. Written with grace, beauty and refreshing honesty, Black Bread White Beer explores human relationships in all their messy flux, creating a novel of genuine power and resonance. It is the kind of book readers long for, but so rarely find.” Stuart Evers
“A stylish, gripping, quietly heart-breaking book that takes the reader’s emotions and clamps them, vice-like, until we are left spent and breathless. It reminded me in both style and subject of the great American master James Salter, in the way it turns a cool, anthropologist's eye on a couple as their love for each other - already full of dangerous fissures - begins to crumble. One of the most moving, powerful novels I’ve read in a long while.” Alex Preston
“Niven Govinden’ s taut, poetically harrowing novel displays all the poise, balance and confidence of the most daring of tightrope walkers. Few contemporary novelists are able to maintain such courage. Black Bread White Beer confirms Niven Govinden as one of those few.” Lee Rourke
“Niven Govinden is one of my favourite writers in the world and his words are like punches to the chest. The book deals with themes of technology versus nature, mixed-race couples and how the small can seem so big, with wit, tension, emotion and humility. One of the most human books about grief ever written.” Nikesh Shukla